Friday, May 06, 2005

Extremely Loud and Incrediby Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

I object to the reviews which complain that Foer’s use of photographs, playful fonts, unreadable and blank pages in this novel are not experimental. I think it’s valid to complain that not all of these devices work—but not to suggest that they don’t work just because they are no longer new (which I agree, they are not). Plot, character development, and the English language are not new and nobody would suggest that fiction writers shouldn’t use those. The time has come to evaluate once experimental devices on their own terms. Are they serving the story or not? With that said, Foer is sometimes way too cute, and the whole middle of this novel sags, but I was moved to literal tears by the start and the finish.

I am a fan of the two novels—The Tin Drum and A Prayer for Owen Meany—that seem to have birthed Foer’s narrator, and this may have been part of the problem for me. Once again, fandom has its dangers. Oskar Schell just doesn’t have the power of the other Oskar or the great humor or great pathos of Owen. Foer chooses to send his Oskar on a quest, which often makes for a good structure, but its resolution is not satisfying in the manner of Owen Meany’s resolution (a real feat of planning on John Irving’s part) nor is it as emotionally resonant or as life-threatening as that of Grass’s Oskar.

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